The U.S. Food and Drug Administration is examining cinnamon imports from several countries for toxic lead contamination after growing reports of children falling ill after eating bags of applesauce and applesauce.
Cinnamon from a manufacturer in Ecuador is the “likely source” of high levels of lead found in recalled bags of applesauce linked to illnesses in at least 34 children in 22 states, the FDA said Friday.
But the agency noted that there have been no other reports of illness or elevated blood lead levels linked to the spice that is popular in holiday baking.
The agency has not yet been able to directly collect or test samples of cinnamon in the product. Import records show that WanaBana LLC of Coral Gables, Florida, received shipments of applesauce and cinnamon from Austrofood, a manufacturer in Ecuador.
A recalled bag of WanaBana Cinnamon Applesauce collected at a Dollar Tree store was found to have lead levels more than 200 times higher than the FDA’s proposed guidance would allow, officials said.
The agency does not regulate specific levels of heavy metals (including lead) in spices, said Joanne Slavin, a food science professor at the University of Minnesota.
Consumers should be aware that cinnamon may contain lead, he said, but Friday’s FDA statement said there is no indication that cinnamon products other than applesauce are affected.
“I wouldn’t want to scare people and tell them that if you put cinnamon in your pumpkin pie, you’re a bad grandma,” she said.
Illnesses linked to the bags have been reported in children ages 1 to 3, and at least one child showed a blood lead level eight times higher than the level of concern, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said.
There is no safe level of lead exposure, but the CDC uses a marker of 3.5 micrograms per deciliter to identify children with higher levels than most. The blood lead levels of the affected children ranged from 4 to 29 micrograms per deciliter.
The recalled fruit products include bags of WanaBana cinnamon applesauce and Schnucks and Weis brand cinnamon applesauce. They were sold at the Dollar Tree, in Amazon and in other online media.
Health officials said children who may have eaten the products should be tested for lead levels. Children who have become ill have reported headache, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and anemia, but often children may not show symptoms.
Lead exposure can cause serious learning, cognitive and behavioral problems. Heavy metals like lead can get into food products through soil, air, water or industrial processes, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics.
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